Stevens has talent, mentality
Minor League right-hander possessed of intangibles
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Bisons pitching coach Scott Radinsky can't really describe "it." No one really can. You just kind of know "it" when you see "it."But there's no mistaking the power of "it." If you've got "it," you're golden. If you don't, well, good luck. When Jeff Stevens made his first appearance with the Bisons in early June, Radinsky thought he saw "it." When he saw Stevens give up a first-pitch home run a few appearances later, Radinsky's notion was affirmed. "This guy's got it," said Radinsky, a big league reliever for 11 years before retiring in 2001. "He's going to be a Major League pitcher, and he's going to be a good one." What Radinsky saw was Stevens' ability to shrug off adversity and move on to the next batter like nothing had happened -- a rare find among young, developing pitchers. It's what has helped Stevens avoid the big inning since he was permanently converted to relief work before the 2007 season. It's what has made Stevens' blip on the Indians' radar grow to the size of a supercell. "He can go out there and get his [butt] kicked and give up a tying run, but he's fine," Radinsky said. "He'll go back out there today and strike out the side. He's got that ingredient you just don't teach, and he's got 'it.'" Stevens, who, along with Akron Aeros slugger Matt LaPorta, was selected for the 24-man U.S. Olympic roster on Wednesday, hasn't had to use his ability to brush off supposed disaster much this season. Starting the year at Double-A Akron, Stevens -- the "player to be named later" in the infamous 2006 trade that sent Brandon Phillips to the Reds -- compiled a 5-1 record with a 2.51 ERA before his May 31 promotion to Buffalo. Quite an achievement, considering that he allowed seven runs in his first 11 2/3 innings pitched. "I was expecting to be perfect," Stevens said of his slow start. "I took some lumps early, trying to do too much and trying to be perfect. You really can't do that." But there was a reason -- OK, maybe an excuse -- for Stevens' penchant for perfection. Months before he was scuffling against Double-A hitters, Stevens was in Taipei City, China, fanning some of the world's best at the 2007 Baseball World Cup. The 24-year-old right-hander threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, picking up saves against South Korea and Cuba in the Gold Medal game, which clinched America's first World Cup triumph in 33 years. "He pitched a lot and pitched more than your average bullpen pitcher in the Minor Leagues," said Indians farm director Ross Atkins, who also noted Stevens' seven appearances in the Arizona Fall League before the World Cup. "He got off to somewhat of a slow start physically and then, after he got comfortable and physically back to throwing as 100 percent, he really started to show us that he's a Major League-caliber pitcher." At Buffalo, Stevens has done just that. In 20 2/3 innings pitched, Stevens has compiled a 3.92 ERA with 28 strikeouts and just 10 walks. In five of his 14 appearances, Stevens was called in to close the game. He picked up the save all five times. It was no coincidence that Radinsky pushed for Stevens to pick up more experience in high-pressure situations. "At this level, the only way to recreate a Major League inning is to put them in that closer role," Radinsky said. "If we got a guy that's worth anything, the more we can get him in that role, the better he's going to be and the easier it's going to be for him to get up there nerve-wise, because it's a different game up there." Bisons manager Torey Lovullo won't go as far to declare Stevens the Indians' closer in waiting. That's for general manager Mark Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge to decide. But like Radinsky, Lovullo sees "it" in Stevens. "He's got a closer mentality," Lovullo said. "He just wants to go out there and attack. He doesn't really care about much and, on top of that, his stuff is outstanding. He's going to make the Indians make a decision on him pretty quick." Not if Radinsky has his way. Because he's been with the Indians' organization since 2004, Radinsky has seen too many pitchers rushed to the big leagues, only to fail -- often miserably -- and be sent back down. It's something he doesn't want to see happen to a player with as much potential as Stevens, who is still fine-tuning a slider to go along with his fastball and slow curve. "I'm hoping, keeping my fingers crossed with Jeff, we're going to do the right thing and let him develop a little more and finish it off," Radinsky said. "When he gets to the big leagues, he'll have some weapons to figure it out up there and survive."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.